Sunday, April 8, 2007

Retrospective Part Deux-Yosemite and the Rest of the Trip

OK, I have to finish this before I forget too much. So prepare yourself for a long entry!

We spent Friday night in Lone Pine, CA in another generic chain motel. It was inexpensive and plenty comfy. The big surprise was the dinner we had in town at the Merry Go’Round. Holly had the elk and I had a very nice pork loin. They had a fine wine list and we totally enjoyed ourselves. After a week of dinner at the Stagecoach in Beatty, this was downright civilized. Who knew?

We were up early again on Saturday morning to catch the sunrise in the Alabama Hills, below Mt Whitney. The Alabamas have quite the history in the movie biz with many films shot there over the years including Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart and loads of westerns starring John Wayne. The landscape is unique and the granite boulders and outcrops contain arches and other features. We wanted to be there for the first light on Mt. Whitney framed by the arches.

We spent a couple of hours there and after the light changed, we headed into town for breakfast and then to check out of our motel. Today’s mission was to arrive in Oakhurst, CA on the other side of the Sierra so that on Sunday we could head right into Yosemite Valley. Since most of the roads across the Sierra are closed in the winter we had a choice of either driving north to Tahoe, like last year, or going around the southern end. This year we chose to go the southern route which was really nice. It was also shorter. Duh!

We drove through the Kern River Valley through the mountains. This was a beautiful twisty, turny road with spectacular river views. Several times Holly asked if I would please keep my eyes on the road. ☺. Once we came out the other side we were in Bakersfield and The Oil Valley. It is truly as lovely as it sounds. One bright spot along this route is the number of farm stands along the road north of Bakersfield. We stopped at what turned out to be the last stand and bought some fruit from one of the nicest old timers ever. He was reluctant to let us go, but when we did finally take our leave, he walked right out into the road to stop traffic for us.

On our way north to Oakhurst, we decided to take a detour through Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks. After getting our map at the gate, the road began to go up. And up. And up. Oh, and did I mention the road goes up from there? It’s miles and miles of swithbacks up the side of the canyon until it finally levels off. We kept going until we arrived at the General Sherman grove of giant sequoias. The General is considered to be the largest living organism on the planet at 275’ tall and a circumference of 102’. It’s also ~2500 years old. A teenager to the Bristlecones I visited last summer, though.

After we finished ogling the General, we realized that the sun was going down. Since daylight savings is early this year, that meant it was pretty late and we needed to get going. So, we headed down the other side of the park. And down. And down. Finally we hit Fresno and the freeway north. In no time we were cruising into Oakhurst and the next Best Western (Apologies to Richard Shindell). Dinner of oranges, grapefruits, nuts, etc. as we settled in. It was late and we were asleep in no time.

We took full advantage of the complimentary breakfast the next morning after which we headed to Yosemite. There was still plenty of snow at the higher elevations and the Mariposa Grove and Glacier Point roads were closed for the season so those will have to wait for another visit when it’s warmer. After about an hour we arrived at Inspiration Point, at least the parking area for it. This is the first real iconic view of Yosemite Valley, made popular by Ansel Adams, as we drove up the 41. This was Holly’s first visit to the Valley and the look on her face summed it up nicely.

This was actually my first time driving in the Valley and it took me a little time to get myself oriented. On that first day we poked around, visited the Ansel Adams Gallery where we picked up a small photographers guidebook to the park and Holly surprised me with a beautiful wooden walking stick. The rest of the day was spent locating the spots mentioned in the guide. After a day of exploring we headed back to the motel and had a nice meal at one of the local steakhouses.

These are Yosemite Falls which in March are thundering down out of the high country from all the snow melt.
This is a shot of Half dome taken from the Sentinel Bridge near Cook's Meadow.

The next morning was a repeat of the previous one. We arrived in good style at the Park. We did a little more shopping at the Adams Gallery and in the afternoon took a short hike up to Mirror Lake with stunning views of Half Dome and surrounding peaks. It was warm and sunny and so I took advantage of THE perfect spot for a bit of relaxation beside the lake. As we wandered back down to Libby, the clouds that had been promised began to arrive.

Tuesday was another drive day with our destination Napa for a visit with Charlie, Judy, Jen and Auggie. We drove up through Sonora and some of the vineyards in that area and then over to Napa. We had a dinner that couldn’t be beat that evening and some of the best possible wine in the company of some of the best people on the planet. The visit was much too short and we said goodbye with the idea of coming back in July for one of the jazz concerts at Mondavi.I’m keeping my eyes out for a good deal on airfare.

We left Napa after a stop at a local shop that presses its own olive oil. This is like nothing we can find in Cambridge. We had a 3 liter bottle shipped to us along with a ound of dried porcini mushrooms. We drove over to the coast and meandered our way along Rt.1 across the Golden Gate and into San Francisco. That drive is one of the prettiest anywhere and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Our first stop in the city was to be The New Lab, which is the place we have our film developed before our flight home. Their average turnaround is 2.5 hours, even for Holly’s 4x5s. After 2 aborted trips over the Bay Bridge (Lizz somehow needed to cross to the East Bay) we finally got to the lab. We dropped off the film, had a pint of beer and a bite of food at the Thirsty Bear just around the corner. And then headed up to visit with some friends and dinner in Half Moon Bay at one of the best sushi joints in the area.

Kimber and Steve are in the process of closing up their house in San Bruno and going over to Asia for, as Steve puts it “At least a year”. Our guess is that they move over there permanently. They are both going to be working for the summer with a trekking company that does hoseback treks into Mongolia. Once it turns cold in the fall, they plan to begin a southern migration through China into Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. We both hope the very best for them and we’re going to be following their exploits over the web. Technology is a marvelous thing, eh?

We got a late start from San Bruno, shipped some of the items we picked up during the trip back home, got our slides at The New Lab (with the requisite ogling on the lightbox) and a late lunch at the Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley. While we were in Berkeley we HAD to stop at The Missing Link bike co-op and pick up a few things. I was able to score a couple of Missing Link jerseys, one for me and one for Chris (our beloved airport chaffeur in Boston).

We spent the night right near the Oakland Airport and were up the next morning very early to catch our flight back to Boston. It was an uneventful flight and we arrived back pretty much on schedule. Ho Hum!

So now the work has begun to sort through the images. I have nearly 400 slides to go through and Holly hasn’t even begun to develop her 4x5 black and white images yet. As I get some of these scanned and prepped for printing, I’ll post them on the blog. So stay tuned, the trip continues!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Retrospective 1-Leaving Death Valley

OK, so we’re back home now. I discovered that trying to keep the blog was nearly impossible with all the driving to and from our shooting spots, up early to catch early light and staying out until after dark for sunset. Most of the trips were 100 or so miles 1 way and much more than an hour. So, I’ll catch up in retrospect.

On Thursday March 15, we were up, checked out of the Motel 6 by 5AM and on our way to the Mesquite Flat Dunes. We were first on the scene, but as the dawn approached we were joined by a growing number of others chasing the light and some of the iconic images of Death Valley. There muffled conversations and we could see parties of photographers staking their claims when suddenly there it was, the light everyone was waiting for. I don’t think I have ever heard so many shutters clicking all at once in my life. It sounded like a Washington news conference.

So, we gathered our images and headed back to Libby. We stopped at Stovepipe Wells for breakfast and continued on our way west. First stop was Wildrose Canyon and the coke kilns. Apparently, back in the mining days, one of the mining companies figured that it would be easier to make the coke for the smelters right there in the area rather than to import it. So 10 kilns were built, each about 25’ high by 30’ in diameter (or it might be the other way around and pine was harvested from the canyon to produce coke for the gold and silver smelters about 30 miles away. I think they were only in operation for a few years before going idle. Anyway, these kilns have been restored and are quite a sight.

Next we hiked into Darwin Falls, which is a lovely little oasis deep within a canyon. It’s a pretty easy hike, though it involves a tiny bit of easy rock scrambling. It ends at the falls, which are about 30’ tall or so and they cascade into a beautiful pool.

After the hike we checked into our room at the Panamint Springs Resort (PSR) and had a cold pint on the porch while waiting for the light to change. After our pint and a little snooze (this is where the trip gets a bit more civilized) we drove down into Panamint Valley to photograph some old abandoned cars in the evening light. Phil had taken us there last year, but Holly’s images weren’t what she wanted so we had to go back. This year we both scored some nice ones, as well as some interesting shots of the sunset.

Dinner, sleep, an excellent breakfast and we were off out of Death Valley Nat’l Park for another March. We stopped at Father Crowley Point to say farewell and continued up to Bishop for the required stops at Mountain Light Gallery and Wilson’s Eastside for some gear shopping. On our way back down to Lone Pine we stopped at the Manzanar Nat’l Historical Site, which was an internment camp for Japanese Americans during WWII. The stories of this site, and others, made us think of the profiling and paranoia that is happening today surrounding Arab Americans. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same and just when you think we might have learned something…...